The Rules of the Game: Struggles in Black Recreation and Social Welfare Policy in South Africa

By Alan Gregor Cobley | Go to book overview

2
The Politics of Reading: Literacy, Consciousness, and the Development of Library Services for Blacks in South Africa

INTRODUCTION: LITERACY AND CHRISTIANITY

South Africa was engulfed in a great wave of missionary endeavor from the midnineteenth century onward. This endeavor had two objectives which most missionaries regarded as synonymous: to christianize and to civilize the indigenous African population. 1 It was natural, since many Protestant sects regarded the word of God as represented in the Bible as the prime instrument for the enlightenment of the heathen; as part of the process of evangelization missionaries should establish schools. These included a relatively large number of elementary schools for rank-and-file converts and a much smaller number of "Native Institutions" for secondary and further education where "native agents" for the propagation of the gospel (ministers, teachers, evangelists) could be trained. By 1936 twenty-seven Native Institutions established in South Africa by missionaries offered teacher training and other forms of further education to Africans. 2 Apart from the educational elite who were graduates of these "Native Institutions" (numbering a few thousand), most of the relatively small proportion of Africans who had received some education by the time of Union in 1910 could do little more than recite their ABCs. The 1911 Census found that only 6.8 percent of Africans in South Africa could read and write. 3 This could hardly be considered a widespread dissemination of literacy. Nevertheless, many white commentators regarded the efforts of the missions in education with suspicion and even hostility. Academic education, it was believed, gave Africans an exaggerated sense of their own importance: an "educated native" was a "spoiled native." Such commentators argued that the only education Africans needed were the inculcation of the proper humility towards superior white civilization and the acquisition of "habits of industry," so that they might become more effective workers. 4 To combat such views, missionaries and educators produced reams of statistics and cited endless examples to demonstrate that an "educated native"

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